Portland High School is searching for a new volleyball coach after Principal David Woods announced Rob and Ginger Lesemann would step down as head coach and assistant coach.
The dynamic duo wrapped a 33-year career that saw over 1,000 combined volleyball games, 642 wins, two state titles, one runner-up, and one third place finish.
“Today was the end of a 33-year volleyball career for Rob and me,” Ginger tweeted. “Volleyball was awesome, but the blessings came from the girls, coaches, and friends we met along the way!”
Starting from scratch
“First time she ever saw a volleyball match was the one she was playing in.”
Back in 1994, when Meg Thornton came to Portland High School as a freshman, she had no formal training in the sport, nor had she ever seen a game — those wrinkles are what Rob and Ginger worked through to get on top of the mountain.
“I think one of the things we are most proud of is being competitive against teams with 95% club players and us only having a few,” Rob said.
Thornton went on to be named State Tournament MVP in 1997.
“That was the case for everyone,” Rob said. “You learn how to coach your girls when you only get them for three months. Ginger learned to coach the position and not the sport of volleyball.”
Back in 1989, when Ginger started the program, there were a lot of growing pains. She and the team finished the inaugural season 0-24 and picked up their only win in three seasons in 1990 against East Robertson.
“When you start 1-64 as a coach, you do a lot of soul searching,” Ginger said. “I was stubborn enough to keep at it, and by the fourth year, we got to 10 wins, and that fifth year we went 27-5, I knew we had a program.”
The dynamic Lesemann duo recalls putting their entire life into the sport.
“It overwhelmed our lives,” Ginger said. “We read books, magazines, went to clinics, watched videos, worked fundamentals, rotations, summer camps, you name it, and we were trying it.”
Rob and Ginger remember when the light bulb came on for them in 1995, learning under Christian Brothers University head coach In-Sik Hwang.
“We were so excited to learn how to serve-receive,” Rob said. “It was an Aha! moment for us to see how things worked. We went out to eat that night eating and started drawing up plays, thinking we can’t wait to show the girls; once we showed them, they were excited.”
Finding their groove
Once Ginger and Rob figured out how to get the most out of their players, they never looked back. After reaching 27 wins in year five, Ginger won 181 games, including district championships in 1993, ’94, ’96, and ’97, a region title in 1996, four sectional berths, and one state tournament appearance before stepping away in 2001.
Former assistant Connie Moyher took over the program from 2001-2005, while Ginger served as an assistant the final two years before taking back over from 2007-2011.
During the five-year stretch, the program continued to excel, winning a district and region title in 2003, a region championship in 2004, and three sectional appearances from 2003-05.
From 2006-2011 Ginger won an impressive 153 matches and made four sectional appearances before stepping down for good as head coach.
Their success is attributed to starting middle school volleyball in Sumner County and Rob Lesemann Volleyball (RLV) in 2006.
In 2014 Rob took over the head coaching duties at Portland High School after spending time Alliance North Volleyball, Impact Volleyball Club, and Portland Middle School.
Rob never won less than 30 games the first six seasons as head coach, compiling a 229-61 record before COVID-19.
After three seasons of knocking on the door in Class AAA, Portland finally broke through in AA.
“You get to a point where you are beaten down, and you think you can’t do this anymore,” Ginger said of 2017, the year Portland dropped from Class AAA to Class AA.
“You have a good season, then you go to a school like Brentwood in the substate, who already has the cake in the hall ready to celebrate, and there was no doubt about it, but to see those things it was hard.”
During the 2017-19 seasons, Portland ran off a 135-24 record that included 40 plus wins each season and two seasons with less than 10 losses.
“Those three teams will forever be special because of what we were able to accomplish,” Ginger said.
Added Rob: “Sometimes the teams you are most proud of are the ones no one else recognizes. When you exceed capabilities, and we had a few of those, you feel like you did a good job of getting the best out of them.”
Standing on top of the mountain
Rob and Ginger both remember 2017 like it were yesterday.
That year the two navigated through Class AA easily and into the state tournament for just the second time in school history — the championship game appearance was their first after finishing third in 1997.
Portland defeated Knoxville Catholic 3-1 at the Murphy Center for the school’s first girls team title.
“The year we went AA, I told the girls and (Principal) Mr. Woods we would win state,” Rob said. “Mr. Woods told me those were tall words, but I knew we would — I felt that.”
The Lady Panthers went on to repeat as state champs in 2018 and finished runner-up in their final year of Class AA competition in 2019.
“As time passes on, it hits you, and you just think ‘yeah, we did that,” Ginger said of the three-year run that included two titles. “To be the first girls team state champion at Portland High School will always tie you to those kids. That stuff means a lot to this town.”
“We talk all the time to the girls about leaving your mark; well, I think we did that.”
Life after volleyball
For their entire 32-year marriage, life has been about one thing and one thing only, and now the two joke they need to figure out if they like each other outside of the sport of volleyball.
“We talked about this sport year-round, so life will certainly be different,” Ginger said. “Rob likes to ride his motorcycle, and I want to see the country.”
The two have a travel trailer, which works best for both of them. Ginger can see the country, and Rob can ride his 400 at the local track.
He found his love for motorcycles at the age of five when his dad owned a Honda shop for 21 years.
“That’s my one purpose in life,” he said.